St John will become lead manager of the £2.95bn UK Select Opportunities fund, effective from 31 December 2018.
Mark Beveridge, global head of Axa IM Framlington Equities, said: “Nigel Thomas has an impressive 39 years working in asset management and 16 years at the helm of the hugely successful Axa Framlington UK Select Opportunities Fund.
“We are looking forward to continuing to work with Nigel over this coming year but would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Nigel for his time at the company, his dedication to his unit holders and to the UK equities desk.
“We wish him all the very best for the future as he enjoys his retirement.”
Since inception in 2002, Thomas has returned 380% to investors and 10.6% on an annualised basis, versus the FTSE All Share’s 237% and 8.1%, respectively.
In 2013, he was awarded the ‘Outstanding Fund Manager Award’ from Morningstar OBSR.
Beveridge said the firm “identified Chris St John as the clear successor for this popular fund back in 2013”.
Thomas commented: “I have worked with Chris St John for 13 years and we have very similar investment styles; he and the wider UK equities team have contributed a huge amount to the idea generation that I have implemented as I managed the UK Select Opportunities Fund.”
Reassuring investors, he said he has 70% of his SIPP invested in the fund, and plans to keep it there, as “testament to my faith” in St John.
He added: “I have loved my time in the UK equity market and working with the Framlington equities team.
“As I always say, ‘things will not necessarily get better or worse – they will become different’, and I am very much looking forward to the next chapter.”
Axa IM confirmed that St John will continue to manage the UK Mid-Cap Fund, in addition to his responsibilities as lead manager on the WF Framlington UK Fund.
However, Jason Hollands, managing director at Tilney cautioned those investing in actively managed funds “to be aware of manager changes and to review the case for continuing holding a fund when they happen.”
He said: “Inevitably these types of developments when a key manager steps down are always a challenge for an asset management business, as they provide a prompt for longstanding holders to reassess positions and, of course, an opportunity for rivals to make their case.
“Chris St John is a manager we know well with a depth of expertise in mid-caps and smaller companies, who has also been running an offshore fund with a multi-cap strategy for a couple of years. He was therefore the natural – and expected – candidate to take on the fund.
“That said St. John’s offshore Axa WF Framlington UK fund is not a carbon copy of the UK Select Opportunities fund, so over time some changes can be expected as he makes his own mark.”
Still, he said that this was a “significant announcement” by Axa as “Nigel Thomas has had an illustrious career with one of the longest track records in the industry”.
“Axa have clearly been planning for the succession for some time and they have set out a process for an orderly handover,” he added.